John Coppolella did significant damage to the Braves’ organization, but it turned out to be not nearly as bad as the damage he did to himself.
Major League Baseball slammed the Braves for international-signing rules violations Tuesday, stripping the organization of 13 prospects, including at least a handful of whom – Kevin Maitan, Abrahan Gutierrez, Yunior Severino, Livan Soto – were considered the equivalent of five-star football recruits. Because they’re teenagers, measuring actual long-term impact is risky, but it’s safe to assume player development just took a painful hit.
But Coppolella, who was fired two months ago as general manager, took the only definite long-term hit. If the Braves were hammered, Coppolella with sledgehammered. He was banned from the sport. His career is over. Commissioner Rob Manfred said he has been placed on the “permanently ineligible list.”
Pete Rose. The Chicago “Black” Sox. John Coppolella. They are now synonymous and equals in baseball infamy.
Rose was banned for betting on baseball. Eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox were banned for conspiring with gamblers to fix the World Series. Coppolella was banned for breaking a mountain of rules and continuing to deny it ever happened. He bet he could get away with anything, and in the end he bet could lie about it.
That’s right. It’s not known for certain what MLB would have done had Coppolella merely come clean and expressed satisfactory contrition. But word is Manfred and officials were infuriated because Coppolella wouldn’t admit to all of the rules he broke, even when evidence was presented to him.
It’s sad to watch anybody’s career spiral so dramatically, particularly a talented person like Coppolella. But he was his own worst enemy. Current and former Braves’ employees, including scouts, front-office employees and former special assistant Gordon Blakeley (who received a one-year suspension) all came clean to investigators about what was going on.
There were stories about a verbally abusive boss (Coppolella) and some employees being run off or threatened. There also have been rumors that Coppolella’s infractions extended beyond what MLB included in Tuesday’s official release, including possible tampering violations with employees from other team’s personnel departments.
This ugly chapter in Braves’ history has cost at three people their jobs (Coppolella, Blakeley and John Hart) and one (Coppolella) his career.
Amazingly, to this point, Braves CEO Terry McGuirk has escaped punishment. He inexplicably tried to spare his good friend Hart until last week.
It’s worth noting, however, that this might not be over yet. Liberty Media officials are steaming about this saga. McGuirk is the Braves’ chairman and therefore culpable for the team/corporation wasting $15 million to $17 million in signing bonuses to players that can’t be recouped, a once-proud organization getting humiliated and the player development system take a shot to the gut.
What’s the argument for McGuirk surviving all that? He’s the link between the Braves and their corporate owners and the one who signs off on the budgets.
Even a corporation like Liberty that has benefitted financially from so many publicly funded stadium deals can’t ignore that the Braves’ brand has been tarnished.
Even if the punishment was worse than expected, the Braves should know they have nothing to complain about. They broke rules. Actually, they obliterated rules, and after the Boston Red Sox already had been punished for similar violations and every major league organization had been warned several times to stop circumventing signing rules. Even if MLB sought to use the Braves as an example for others, it’s not like the Braves weren’t warned.
This doesn’t have to be debilitating for the Braves in the long term. Ultimately, whether they are successful hinges not on the loss of these young prospects but on new general manager Alex Anthopoulos’s future moves. He will decide which current (older) prospects to keep and develop and which ones to attempt to trade for major league-ready talent. Anthopoulos must figure out what it will take to fix the major league roster, particularly in the areas of starting and relief pitching.
Most of all, Anthopoulos must restore pride and credibility to an organization that was left doubled over, thanks to the former general manager.
Subscribe to the, “We Never Played The Game” podcast with the AJC's Jeff Schultz and WSB’s Zach Klein on iTunes or on the new AJC sports podcasts page.